NFC East: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

IRVING, Texas -- The defense-needy Dallas Cowboys opened the draft by selecting offensive lineman Zack Martin with the No. 16 pick in the first round.

For all of those who were upset the Cowboys did not take QB Johnny Manziel, there were an equal amount of people upset the Cowboys did not take a defensive player. Any defensive player.

Ware
Hatcher
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With a defense that ranked last in the league in 2013 and lost free agents Jason Hatcher (the leading sacker in '13) and DeMarcus Ware (the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks), there was a level of confusion over the Cowboys’ pick.

“We felt like we had needs going into this draft,” coach Jason Garrett said, “You want to address your needs, but you want to address your needs with the best players available. We felt like we did that.”

The Cowboys have 11 more picks. They have one each in today’s second round (No. 47) and third round (No. 78). Maybe now is when the Cowboys will stress defense, defense, defense.

“I would say right now we need a defensive player more than we need an offensive player,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said.

The Cowboys lost out on the top safeties on their draft board, especially with Jimmie Ward going in the first round to the San Francisco 49ers. The top two safeties, Calvin Pryor and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, went to the New York Jets at No. 18 and the Green Bay Packers at No. 21, respectively. The Arizona Cardinals took Deone Bucannon at No. 27.

Several defensive line options remain, including Demarcus Lawrence, Kony Ealy, Timmy Jernigan and Scott Crichton. The Cowboys had each of them in for a visit to Valley Ranch before the draft. Of the group, Lawrence would fill the more pressing need at right defensive end.

“It’s no secret we’d like to have some defense in this draft,” Jones said.

But he would not rule out the best-player-available theory the Cowboys used in the first round.

“I think we’re going to go down just like we made [the Martin] decision,” Jones said. “We’re going to see what player is there available for us. We’re going to see what trades are there, and I wouldn’t want to bet a lot that we might not take an offensive player.”

Analyzing Kiper Mock 4.0: Cowboys 

April, 17, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- So far Mel Kiper Jr. has followed the Dallas Cowboys' draft needs in his mock drafts.

In his first two mocks, he offered up Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round. In his third, he went with Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. In his Grade A mock, he went with Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

In Kiper's Mock draft 4.0 , he has gone away from the defensive side of the ball.

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Cowboys

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
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The Dallas Cowboys need defense when it comes to the draft.

That was the case before they decided to part ways with DeMarcus Ware on Tuesday. That remains the case whether they re-sign defensive tackle Jason Hatcher.

In his first two mock drafts, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had the Cowboys selecting Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. That would represent a fit because the Cowboys need help at safety as well, according to many folks.

But at the NFL scouting combine, owner and general manager Jerry Jones expressed optimism in J.J. Wilcox, a third-round pick last year. Wilcox’s season was slowed by the death of his mother, which took him away from training camp for a long spell, and a knee injury, which took him out of three games. When he did return he was unable to unseat Jeff Heath from the starter’s role.

But if you’re looking at what new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has done in his career, it has always been about the defensive line. The Cowboys have added two pieces in free agency in Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain, but they are hardly cornerstone pieces.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay had the Cowboys selecting Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan in his most recent mock. Pitt’s Aaron Donald has been the player most linked to the Cowboys since the process began, but he might not make it to No. 16 in the first round.

Mel Kiper's latest mock draft .

McShay Mock 3.0 reax: Cowboys

March, 6, 2014
Mar 6
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IRVING, Texas -- ESPN Insider Todd McShay has his third mock draft available and he has the Dallas Cowboys picking a defensive tackle with the 16th pick in the first round. But not the one that has been most linked to the club so far in the offseason.

Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan is McShay’s pick in part because he had the Chicago Bears take Pitt’s Aaron Donald with the No. 14 pick, which would be crushing to some Cowboys fans who believe Donald would be the perfect guy for Rod Marinelli.

The question I would have is whether the Cowboys see Jernigan as a three technique or more of a one technique. If they think he is more of a nose tackle, then I think the Cowboys would pass on Jernigan at No. 16. If they think he can get to the passer, then they would be OK.

I can’t tell you what the Cowboys really think at this point because they don’t even know. They are in the beginning stages of the draft process.

To a degree this is the Sharrif Floyd argument from a year ago where the coaches did not feel Floyd had the pass rush they wanted to make him a first-round pick.

A one technique is a run stopper and a two-down player. For a first-round pick, he better not have to come off the field in passing situations.

In McShay’s first two mocks he had the Cowboys taking Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt (Dec. 18) and Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Feb. 6).
PHILADELPHIA -- The NFL scouting combine is wrapping up Tuesday in Indianapolis. Here’s how some of the players we identified as possible Philadelphia Eagles picks fared in the annual NFL job fair.

Wide receivers

[+] EnlargeBrandin Cooks
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhBrandin Cooks might be out of the Eagles' reach after his fast time in the 40-yard dash at the combine.
Brandin Cooks of Oregon State might have moved up beyond the Eagles’ grasp by running the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds. That was the second fastest time overall, behind only running back Dri Archer. Combined with Cooks’ incredible numbers from last season -- 128 catches, 1,730 yards -- the 5-foot-10, 189 pounder likely sealed his first-round status.

Kelvin Benjamin of Florida State was as big as advertised -- 6-5, 240 pounds. His 40 time of 4.61 wasn’t especially impressive, but did we mention he’s 6-5?

Odell Beckham Jr., the LSU wideout projected to the Eagles in Mel Kiper Jr.’s most recent (pre-combine) mock draft Insider, ran a 4.43. That increases his added value as a possible return man.

Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews, who goes 6-3, 212 pounds, ran the 40 in 4.46, and also impressed by doing 21 bench press reps. Receivers don’t have to lift bales of hay, but upper-body strength helps when blocking or trying to get off the line against press coverage.

Edge rushers

Dee Ford, the Auburn defensive end projected to the Eagles by NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, proclaimed himself a better player than Jadeveon Clowney, then did not participate in drills because of a medical issue. Ford said he was told not to work out because of a 2011 back injury. You have to wonder if that concern will drop Ford on draft boards.

Anthony Barr of UCLA is considered the second best outside linebacker prospect after Buffalo’s Kahlil Mack. The Eagles would only have a shot at Barr if he slipped a bit. His disappointing bench press result (15 reps) probably wasn’t enough to overshadow his 4.66 speed. (Mack ran a 4.65 and did 23 reps.)

Stanford’s Trent Murphy worked out with the linebackers, not the defensive linemen, and remains an intriguing option for the Eagles. The 6-5, 250-pound Murphy ran a 4.86.

Defensive backs

The top two safeties, Lousiville’s Calvin Pryor and Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, ran identical 40 times of 4.58. They didn’t separate themselves from each other, but the blazing speed at cornerback could potentially sway a DB-needy team or two to go that route and drop the safeties a few spots.

Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State is one of those corners. Gilbert ran a 4.35 Tuesday. At 6-0, 202 pounds, that gives him an enviable combination of size and speed.

Michigan State corner Darqueze Dennard was projected to the Eagles Insider by Todd McShay. After running a 4.42, the 5-11, 199-pound Dennard might also have moved up beyond the No. 22 spot.

Combine prep: Safeties

February, 18, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- The scouting combine begins Wednesday in Indianapolis. The Eagles will be taking it all in, checking the measurable and interviewing potential draftees. They have players they’re especially interested in seeing up close, but general manager Howie Roseman isn’t sharing that kind of info.

Based on their needs and the players available, we’ll take a look at some prospects of interest every day until the combine is over. Let’s start with the Eagles’ most glaring need position, safety.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama. ESPN draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both have the 6-foot-1, 208-pound Clinton-Dix going to Dallas at 17 in their latest first-round mocks. Mike Mayock of NFL Network has Clinton-Dix as his second highest rated safety behind Louisville’s Calvin Pryor.

“He doesn't have elite man-to-man coverage skills but has good range in zone and is an aggressive, efficient run supporter,” McShay writes. Kiper says Clinton-Dix gives “the added bonus of being able to help out closer to the line of scrimmage. While he's great in single high, you can bring him up and he won't shy away from contact.”

Calvin Pryor, Louisville. Mayock’s top-rated safety is 6-2, 208 pounds. Kiper describes Pryor as a “downhill safety who will fly up to the line of scrimmage and make plays. While he's got work to do in coverage, he's instinctive and athletic enough to get better there.”

NFL Network’s Nolan Nawrocki describes Pryor in words that should appeal to Eagles fans: “A big, physical, hammering run defender brings an enforcer mentality to the box and an intimidating, punishing presence to the back end. Is arguably the most violent hitter in this year's draft class and should make his presence felt readily in the pros.”

Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State. Joyner is listed as a cornerback in most roundups, but Mayock projects him as a safety/nickelback type. Because he’s only 5-8, the Eagles would probably not seriously consider him as a corner. But Kiper has him as his third-ranked cornerback and Nawrocki describes him as playing “bigger than his size.” Also a return man.

Deone Bucannon, Washington State. If the Eagles go elsewhere in the early rounds, the 6-1, 216-pound Bucannon could be a second-day option. Nawrocki describes him as “old school” and a classic strong safety type. Had six interceptions as a senior.

Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois. The 5-11, 192-pound Ward had seven interceptions in 2013. Kiper describes him as a riser “who isn't a big player but is a very good one and looks as if he can start early. Likely a second-rounder.”

Eagles-eye view: In the first year under Bill Davis, the Eagles didn’t really have a free safety and a strong safety. Nate Allen tended to play deeper and either Earl Wolff or Patrick Chung was closer to the line, but that was subject to change.

It isn’t clear whether that was Davis’ preference or he was simply getting by with the personnel on hand. What is clear is that the proliferation of spread offenses and athletic tight ends requires a group of versatile, athletic defensive backs who can cover as well as tackle.

That is what the Eagles will be looking for in Indy this week.

A look at Cowboys' prospects at combine

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
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IRVING, Texas -- The NFL scouting combine serves as a get-to-know-you session for teams and prospects, so with that, we offer up a photo gallery of 10 players the Dallas Cowboys could have an interest in over at ESPNDallas.com

Not to spoil it, but with a tremendous need on defense, nine of the 10 are on that side of the ball and are considered first- or second-round picks, so clearly the Cowboys won’t be able to get their hands on more than one, possibly two, if they do some maneuvering.

Defensive linemen, like Aaron Donald, are scheduled to do their bench-press test on Sunday and on-field drills on Monday. Defensive backs, like safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor, work out last, on Monday and Feb. 25.

For the full schedule of workouts, click here.

Cowboys prep for NFL scouting combine

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
10:00
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys head to Indianapolis this week for the NFL scouting combine.

So far this offseason we have brought you a cursory look at the needs of the Cowboys and the early mock drafts of ESPN Insiders Mel Kiper and Todd McShay.

The combine brings the draft season into focus with more than 300 prospects on hand for medical exams, position testing and interviews with the teams. The combine can sway opinions on players, despite what teams say, but perhaps the most valuable tool from the weeklong session are the 60 official interviews and the other conversations scouts and coaches have with players.

The Cowboys’ needs are fairly obvious. They need defense, and lots of it. Defensive end, defensive tackle, safety and linebacker are all needs. But they cannot ignore other spots on a roster that has contributed to three straight 8-8 finishes. Choosing an offensive lineman in the first round for the third time in four years should not be ruled out, especially with how well Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick have worked out.

To give you a working list of prospects, we offer up Kiper’s Top 10 at each position Insider heading into the combine. What is particularly interesting to the Cowboys is the switch at safety.

In his first two mock drafts, Kiper has had the Cowboys drafting Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Heading into the combine, he has moved Louisville’s Calvin Pryor to the top spot at safety over Clinton-Dix.

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 2

January, 25, 2014
Jan 25
12:00
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IRVING, Texas -- The second part of the Dallas Cowboys’ Twitter Mailbag is ready for you guys.

If you have questions for next week or beyond, hit me up on Twitter (@toddarcher) and use the #cowboysmail hashtag.

Away we go:
 

Kiper mock 1.0 reaction: Eagles

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
3:00
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When I took a look at some of the Eagles’ first-round draft possibilities the other day, I couldn’t help but notice some big wide receivers that might be around for the 22nd pick.

Sure, the Eagles need defensive help more urgently, but GM Howie Roseman and coach Chip Kelly are committed to taking the best player on their board. And Kelly surely wouldn’t mind if that player happened to add an element missing from his array of offensive weapons.

So it seems perfect that Mel Kiper’s first 2014 mock draft Insider has the Eagles taking Florida State’s 6-foot-4 Kelvin Benjamin. It was Benjamin who caught Jameis Winston’s game-winning touchdown in the national championship game against Auburn -- exactly the kind of red zone target Nick Foles could use.

In his mock draft, Kiper has the two top safeties -- Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor -- off the board when the Eagles pick. Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, another of the big-bodied wide receivers I mentioned, is also gone.

That leaves the Eagles choosing from among some intriguing players --Benjamin, Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt and Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard among them.

If that scenario presents itself, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if Roseman and Kelly went for Benjamin, who caught 54 passes last season -- 15 of them for touchdowns.

The Eagles’ wide receiver situation will be a lot clearer by the May draft. Riley Cooper, who had a breakout season, will be an unrestricted free agent. So will Jeremy Maclin, who tore his ACL in training camp and missed the entire season. Jason Avant has one more year left on his deal, but could be a salary-cap casualty.

Decisions on those three players will go a long way toward deciding who will join DeSean Jackson in the wide receivers meetings. Losing any of them could make the position a priority, rather than a luxury, when the draft rolls around.

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